Distrust remains as IRA hands over its weapons
The leader of the Democratic Union Party suspects a coverup.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
LONDON -- It happened in secret, details of what was destroyed have not been made public, and the initial reaction of Protestant unionists showed that huge elements of doubt and distrust remain.
But an independent international commission and two clergymen certified Monday that the Provisional Irish Republican Army had turned over the bullets, guns, blasting caps, bombs and explosive plastics that held much of Britain in terror for more than 35 years.
The chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, said the eight-year process of putting the last of the IRA's weapons "beyond use" was completed Saturday.
"This can be the end of the use of the gun in Irish politics," he told a news conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The IICD now considers the file on IRA arms closed, and gave its report containing that conclusion to the governments of Ireland and Britain.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for whom progress in the Northern Ireland peace process has been one of the prime achievements of his eight years in office, hailed the development as "a step of unparalleled magnitude."
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern called it a "landmark development of historical significance."
Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, who had urged the IRA to abandon its armed struggle, called the announcement an unprecedented step toward the building "a new Ireland."
Urging the unionists in Northern Ireland to re-form a joint government that collapsed in 2002, Adams said the move by the IRA was not a tactical maneuver.
"I understand and appreciate that unionists need space to absorb what all this means," Adams said. "I would ask them to reflect upon the potential which is now created, and to see it as an opportunity."
But the Rev. Ian Paisley, the leader of the most popular party in the Protestant Unionist community, was having none it.
Paisley, who supports keeping Northern Ireland in union with Britain, insisted that neither the IIDC, nor the Catholic and Methodist clergymen who witnessed it, had anything more to go on than the IRA's word.
"This afternoon the people of Northern Ireland watched a program which illustrates more than ever the duplicity and the dishonesty of the two governments [British and Irish] and the IRA," said Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Union Party. "Instead of openness, it was the cunning tactics of a coverup."
Insisting that he spoke on behalf of the majority of Northern Ireland's 1.7 million residents, of whom about 55 percent are Protestants, Paisley said he was not convinced that the IRA intends to end all paramilitary and criminal activity. He hinted it would be years, if ever, before his party would give in to pressure to join Sinn Fein in a joint government for Northern Ireland.